Halep outlasts Sharapova in break-heavy Rome semis

Both Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova struggled to serve with any consistency in Rome on Saturday, but the world number one triumphed.

Simona Halep is addressed by her coach after a tough start   -  Getty Images

World number one Simona Halep reached her first WTA Tour final since January at the Internazionali d'Italia on Saturday, defeating three-time former champion Maria Sharapova 4-6 6-1 6-4 in an erratic last-four clash.

Halep has retained her place at the top of the rankings this year despite repeated disappointments on the Tour but, ahead of the French Open, she is showing the form that took her to the Australian Open final, even if this match was far from comfortable.

The Romanian had to come from behind as Sharapova showed touches of real class yet failed to compensate for her tiring limbs after a tough run to the semis.

Halep has enjoyed a comparatively straightforward week, with crushing defeats of Naomi Osaka and Caroline Garcia separated by a walkover after a first-round bye, playing just four sets to Sharapova's 11 prior to this meeting.

And that kinder schedule eventually told, following an extraordinary clash in which neither player held serve until the seventh game of the opening set - a theme that lasted the duration.

Sharapova made nine unforced errors in the first three games as the pair refused to be separated until, finally, the former world number one held serve against the current incumbent, smashing a superb backhand down the line.

The power of Sharapova's returns allowed her to break again, briefly ceding control with another poor service game before wrapping up the set.

The 40th-ranked player continued to struggle with her serve in the second, though, and Halep belatedly found her feet, breaking in front and then holding for the first time.

Halep levelled the match after a further two breaks - a Sharapova double-fault concluding the set - before the errors continued into the third to leave the pair neck and neck, the top seed having failed to pull away.

The contest fittingly ended with a break and a mistake, though - Halep handed victory and celebrating wildly as she builds towards Roland Garros and perhaps a first major win.

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